Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by new releases or premieres, or occasionally our own inscrutable whims. With the animated film Sherlock Gnomes hitting theaters Friday, we’re looking back on other interpretations of the famous sleuth from Baker Street.
When we think of Sherlock Holmes, the image that tends to come to mind is Basil Rathbone: the hat, the pipe, the capelet, with Watson as a slightly drunk, buffoonish sidekick. There’s a reason for that, as the first film in the Rathbone Holmes series, The Hound Of The Baskervilles, was a veritable sensation when it was released in 1939. Rathbone (like Jeremy Brett and even Benedict Cumberbatch after him) was able to personify the world’s greatest detective in one of his most appealing mysteries.
Hound boasts a supernatural legend about a mysterious murderous beast, set against the backdrop of a lavish ancestral estate and moors spookier than Wuthering Heights. The production team did what it could to highlight the apparent danger, adding glowing effects to the monster, no shortage of fog machines, or even just zooming in on the creepiness of a doorknob turning itself or a gun emerging from behind a curtain. A romance is thrown in to lighten the mood, and the suspects are all hiding in plain sight, but it’s Rathbone who commands attention effortlessly. He dons Holmes’ various unrecognizable disguises, at one point embodying a harmonica-playing peddler. He also affectionately but hilariously schools Watson (Nigel Bruce) when he tries to out-clue the detective on what he can tell about a stranger from his walking stick. Rathbone embraces the detective’s showy theatrics throughout, swaggering around in smoking jackets, whipping out his violin, and ending the movie with a reference to Holmes’ most controversial habit: “Watson! The needle!”
Hound was such a hit, in fact, it kicked off the entire Holmes movie series. The studio followed up with The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes the very same year, and Rathbone and Bruce also started a Holmes-related radio show, The New Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes, in the bargain. Watching Hound now, so many decades later, it’s easy to see why movie audiences immediately demanded more Holmes adventures, with the chance to see the detective deftly pick apart various clues (why are certain pieces of clothing disappearing from the estate?), alongside what could be a delicious horror film all on its own. (A young hero decides to buck common sense and walk through the hound-infested moors at night. It does not end well.) And after all, there were a multitude of Arthur Conan Doyle Holmes stories to choose from. So 13 movies starring Rathbone and Bruce as Holmes and Watson followed, but Hound Of The Baskervilles remains the perfect place to start.
Availability: The Hound Of The Baskervilles is available to rent or purchase digitally from services like Amazon and YouTube. It can also be obtained on DVD from Netflix, Amazon, or possibly your local video store/library.